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Many people translate sung/song to mean 'relax' but this does not adequately capture the nature of this neigong. Sung feels like the limbs are moving by themselves; all doing is gone.
It is a composite skill which relies strongly upon yielding.
Sung requires the body to be naturally sunk at all times and for the joints to open & close without conscious effort.
Peng permeates the body constantly, creating elastic bow tension although no conscious will is required to manifest or sustain it.
Resistance to force should feel anatomically uncomfortable. The waist should return to the centre by itself once rotated and the elbows should be heavy.
Sung is not flaccid or inert - it is a cat-like readiness within the mobile structure.
You will not grasp sung until much later in the curriculum, but you can begin cultivating it immediately.
Tai chi teaches the student to be loose, flexible and mobile. But this condition is not flaccidity. Going limp involves being disconnected, and will not usually work in combat.
When you have balanced softness appropriately, you will no longer be tense or floppy. You will be 'sung'. This is going to take some time, so be patient and practice.
New starters are taught to be floppy in order to lose their tension. However, the danger with being floppy is that you lack centre. Without a pliable but flexible root, you cannot yield easily.
If you are tense, you will be brittle and hard. Your centre must be strong but empty. You may be capable of relaxing your arms, but if your torso is tense you have missed the point entirely.
Flaccidity in the legs can be as bad as tension. Floppy legs fail to support the body appropriately and in combat you are apt to fall over unnecessarily. Standing qigong is the remedy for bandy legs.
Sink into your hips, relax the back of the knees and drop your weight internally.
If you let your arms flop loosely away from your body when striking, it may be effective, but you will be dangerously exposed. There is a risk that your opponent can take your arm and compromise you.
Also, the disconnected limb might easily pull the shoulder joint and cause it to be sprained.
Bending and twisting your spine is not encouraged in tai chi. It can leave you vulnerable to back injury. Maintain an upright poise, unless bending briefly forward at the hips in order to evade a strike.
If you need space, turn the hips and/or step.
Going to the floor
This is the only time when you need to go limp. It will enable your body to fold easily and safely without injury. Allowing yourself to fall in this way is fundamental.
How to cultivate sung
There are many ways to cultivate sung:
Perform your qigong exercises as though you are doing nothing at all. There should be no effort, tension or 'mind games' involved. Maintain an accurate, correctly aligned sense of the exercise.
Be as gentle and soft as you can be. Your arms should feel feather-light. Under no circumstances should you exert, use force or over-contract your muscles.
(ii) Partner work
The main partnered drills offer an opportunity to become very sensitive and to feel what is happening. If you are nervy and anticipate the opponent, you are feeling yourself, not your attacker.
Be calm. Pay very serious attention. Feel. Follow. Listen. Stick.
Not many people around the world can pull-off tai chi combat skills. If it were easy, then every practitioner would have the ability. But they don't.
You need to be patient and you need to practice diligently.
Form is the main chance you get to cultivate sung. If the sequence feels like a karate kata or dance, you have entirely missed the point. It should be flowing, soft, relaxed, yet substantial.
Balancing these qualities is no easy matter. Do not visualise attacks unless doing so as a separate, isolated endeavour.
Neigong such as 'cat stepping' encourage you to keep your body exceptionally light and agile. You do not want to feel deeply sunk into your legs. It is necessary to lift your legs swiftly, smoothly and easily.
Each neigong you add to your practice will improve it. Sadly many students just nod along when a neigong is explained and then make no attempt to cultivate it.
Neigong requires an awful lot of work: sustained concentration, consistent application and self-correction.
When people ask Sifu Waller about cross-training he typically advises people to be cautious. Why is this? The problem is tension. When people exercise they typically end up exerting.
This results in tension in the muscles and inflexibility in the joints. The problem is not with the exercise, but rather with how you do the exercise. If you can keep tension-free, then do whatever suits you.
Cross-training martial arts
The one kind of cross-training that never works is mixing two internal and external martial arts together.
The tension you learn in the other styles (and the bad body use habits) are always detrimental to your tai chi. Sifu Waller does not cross-train.
The training methods in our syllabus are extensive and offer an extremely comprehensive, balanced daily workout.
Gaining a sense of balance is essential in tai chi. You must never lose your balance.
Every step, every arm movement must be within the natural range of your reach, without compromising balance in any way. Martially, you are vulnerable as soon as you lose balance.
You do not have to be falling over to lose balance, you just need to lift out of your centre.
To feel central equilibrium you must find balance within your body. The upper and lower must be united. The front and back. The sides. Yin and yang (but that comes later). Everything must work together.
Central equilibrium is not just the ability to stand on one leg. It is about finding the middle way between apparent opposites. If you are too much one way or the other, you will be weak.
Real sung is without form. But freeform does not mean 'do as you like'... Form no longer has an obvious shape because it is largely internalised and the mind is unconsciously directing the kinetic energy.
You are essentially doing tai chi all the time.
Sung: To relax and sink.
A distinction should be made between the relaxation of the whole body and a limp or flaccid condition of the whole body.
When the head is picked up, the joints are thrown open and the relaxation of the body is uniform.
18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023